Pizza Shop Sues Former Employee For 'Stealing' Recipe

from the can't-own-a-recipe dept

Reader Brian points us to a story where his hometown pizza shop is apparently suing a former employee, claiming he “stole” their family recipes, and used them to open a competing pizza place 20 miles away. We’ve seen some similar disputes in the past, but have pointed out how the very lack of the ability to use intellectual property to prevent competition in the restaurant business is part of what has helped that industry thrive. Without seeing the actual lawsuit, it’s difficult to know what they’re actually suing him for. Perhaps they could make a trade secret claim, but recipes themselves cannot be copyrighted, so there’s no copyright claim here.

But, really, as you read the quotes from the pizza shop owners who are doing the suing, it appears that they’re making an emotional claim, saying things like: “Don’t take something that someone else’s family started and claim it as your own, because it is not.” Okay, sure, but how do you think your family came up with the original recipe in the first place? It wasn’t invented from scratch. They got a basic recipe from somewhere else, and perhaps improved upon it, but when someone orders a pizza from your shop, do you tell them who gave the family the original recipe? Of course not.

Then there’s this: “I just don’t want to compete against my own food.” Right, so you’re using the law for anti-competitive purposes. The law is supposed to encourage competition, not discourage it.

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Comments on “Pizza Shop Sues Former Employee For 'Stealing' Recipe”

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Freak says:

Of course, drama is part of the business as well

I have a small suspicion about this.

Reminds me of the time one pizza restaurant up here accused another of stealing it’s secret sauce recipe.

A few months later, another pizza place publicly claimed it stole the secret sauce from the second one. Newspaper ads and all.

A few months later, a fourth one . . .

Fast forward to a year and a half later, when the original pizza place is ‘being sued’ for stealing the secret sauce recipe which, if anyone is to be believed, came from itself in the first place.

Of course, it only ended up giving the local pizza places in town free publicity and reducing the market share of chains like pizza hut. I seem to really that no one ever went to court, either.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

This is silly....

The entire evolutio of pizza has been about taking existing recipes and altering them, often times ever so slightly.

Without getting into (yet another) silly debate about what style of pizza is best (because there really IS not debate), the story of Chicago style pizza is a wonderful microcosm of this evolution. Years ago, a pizza joint named Uno opened in Chicago. They took New York style pizza and blew it up by putting it in a deep pan and filling it with the ingredients, then putting the sauce on top. Soon after, the area exploded with Chicago style pizzarias.

Here’s the funny thing: nearly all of those pizzarias were started by chefs that had worked at Uno’s, including all of the big names. Gino’s, Lou Malnatis, Giordano’s…all stemming from Uno’s.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: This is silly....

“They took New York style pizza and blew it up by putting it in a deep pan and filling it with the ingredients”


1/4 ounce active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
2 cups bread flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt

1 Kaiser Springform Cake Pan

1-2 lbs fresh mozzarella
1 lbs Italian sweet sausage
1 lbs Italian hot sausage
1 green pepper
1 pepperoni sliced thin

Throw in oven at 400 for 20-30 minutes.

Yummy !!!!

Is that the Pie you are talking about?

Jeff Rife says:

Re: Re: This is silly....

What size pan is this for?

It takes me at least 4 cups of flour to get a decent thickness of crust on a 12″ deep dish pizza. Also, where’s the “food” for the yeast? You need some sort of sugar in there to get a good rise.

Back on topic…I “stole” most of my pizza recipes from the place I worked for in Texas, and now they might not recognize some of them.

dryfire says:

Re: Trade Secret

If it was, then they did a very bad job protecting it. My friend’s family runs a Chinese restaurant, and there are a few dishes they won’t teach regular employees how to make or prepare for fear of them leaving and teaching it to their competition.

I don’t know if it’s a valid fear, but they’ve protected their recipes for 25 years or so as they know that even if they wanted go to court if someone stole their recipe, they could not afford to.

NullOp says:

Good 'za!

I worked a number of years in pizza restaurants and know something about their formulation. It would be foolish for someone to steal the recipe and reproduce it exactly. It would be even more foolish for a restaurant to disclose their recipe in total to an employee. When I worked at Pizza Inn, for example, the spices for the sauce came premeasured in a brown paper bag. This is an example of a company that took measures to ensure their trade secrets. Apparently the company in question did not. Also, the new restaurant was opened 20 miles away. This is enough of a buffer to argue “no competition” with the former employer.

marak (profile) says:

Before i became a programmer i worked as a chef for a long time, and the amount of recipies i saw when i moved to a new area, suddenly spring up in competing restaurants was at first surprising.

But its not the recipe that makes the difference, its the damn chefs(or in this case the cooks). Anyone can make a nice dough that prooves well and bakes quickly with a nice texture, its the quality and standards of making that dough, and the quality of your ingredients, cleanliness of your kitchen that makes the difference.

And suing over a recipe, damn i should have thought of that, i could have skipped programming and retired 😛

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